Anyone who has ever been married or in a long-term partnership, whether successfully or not, can attest to the fact that good relationships take time, effort and practice. It may be hard to imagine that the mercurial nature of your teenager's dating experiences may actually be helpful and healthy.
Yet, the teenage years potentially provide a variety of rehearsal relationships. Here are four ways to support your teen as they navigate this new, and challenging social territory:
- Resist teasing your teenager about their love lives. If you tease them about someone they like, they may choose not to share that sort of information with you again. If you tease them about their lack of interest or experience with dating, they end up feeling overly self-conscious and even humiliated.
- Don’t judge their choices. They may make a series of really bad ones; however, it's better that they do that now than when they are adults. We have little influence on who they like, and the risk of being judgmental and critical is that the allure may become enhanced if your teen is seeking ways to individuate.
- Try not to get too attached to their significant other. If you really like their current choice in a partner, that’s wonderful. But it probably won’t last so hold back from including a teenage girlfriend or boyfriend in your holiday card or next year’s summer vacation. Additionally, always provide enough space for your teen to decide that they are no longer interested. Parental expectations can be a burden and can keep a young person feeling trapped in an unwanted relationship.
- Stay out of the drama. Practice reflective listening and be mindful that teenagers often break-up and get back together very quickly. Don’t make the mistake of saying something like, “I never liked her anyway.” Your teenager really just needs you to listen. Let their friends do the opinion sharing.
If you fear your child is in an abusive relationship, by all means seek professional help immediately. But, the typical vagaries of teenage dating are an integral part of the maturation process. Your child may experience the highs of their first love and the lows of their first rejection or break-up, but they are also learning through experience, rather than instruction, about what they want in a partner, how to share their lives with someone else, and the full range of human emotion.